- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Harry Devey
- Location of story:
- England, Egypt and Palestine
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 September 2005
TRAINING TO VJ DAY AND PALESTINE
When war broke out I was working in the building trade in the centre of Birmingham. I experienced the weeks of heavy bombing, and in 1944 I received papers ordering me to report to London to work on bomb damage repairs. At the same time I received my ‘call up’ papers to report to Budbrooke Barracks, Warwick. I was told that these took preference.
After six weeks initial training I was posted into the R.A.O.C at Donnington, Salop. At first with a works unit doing a variety of jobs. We had a lot of A.T.S drivers there, and I recall them returning after driving long distances, and being given a meal, some even fell asleep whilst eating. Their trucks were being reloaded and within a very short time they were on the road again. The average age was 18/19 years. I never heard them complain and I have always had a great respect for those girls.
As my medical grade was A1 I was not allowed to remain in that unit and was posted to 14 TTC R.E.M.E at Arborfield for driver training. On completion of this rather long course I was given leave. When I returned, many of my driver mates had been posted. I learned later that many had been killed in either France or Germany. I narrowly missed being sent to East Africa with a group of R.E.M.E vehicle assemblers. It took five days to convince the powers that be that I was not even R.E.M.E but an R.A.O.C driver. Shortly after this, all A1 men were given a medical and within 24hrs we were on our way to an Artillery camp called Park Hall at Oswestry, Central Wales. We were a collection of Army, Navy and Air force, and were told that we were to have intensive infantry training, for destination unknown. The presence of some Chindit officers and the type of training we had, gave us a good idea of where that destination may be.
Eventually V.E day came. We were given 48hrs leave and on our return were told ‘your war hasn’t started yet’. The training went on and on and then the Atom bomb was dropped. I do not recall any particular jubilation, just apprehension. Shortly after the unit was disbanded and we were put into our county regiments. I was sent to the 2/7th Royal Warwicks in Kent. It was made up of the remnants of the battalion that had suffered very heavy casualties in France, and was being reformed. Many of the men had been wounded. I was sent to train on 3” mortars and looking back it was probably the time I enjoyed most. For once I felt I belonged.
However, once again I was to be moved. Due to the utter chaos of the demob system, many men were sent to try and help out. I did not want to leave the battalion, I even saw the Commanding Officer who was sympathetic, but said that it was out of his hands as it was a War Office posting.
As most of the Pay Offices were in towns, I thought that it may after all be a ‘cushy’ posting. I was in civilian billets in Leicester at first, but the novelty soon wore off. I was then posted to Leeds, but the billets there were rough, some even disgusting. A mate and I moved out of one to try and find something better, but were arrested by the Military Police and put in the cells for the night and charged. The crime — moving without permission. I could see no end to my army service, and then came the opportunity of getting out under Class b release, whereby men necessary for the revery of the country, especially building trade, could be released early by applying and getting the approval of a person like your M.P. This I did, and he assured me that I would be out within 14 days. I returned to my unit full of hope and was promptly sent overseas.
I was now transferred to the R.A.P.C and went to London to join a draft that we were told was being sent to Italy. Contrary to popular belief the fighting did not end with V.J Day. Fighting was continuing and British troops were being killed every day in Greece, Palestine, the Dutch East Indies and many other conflicts. We arrived at Dover, crossed the Channel, avoiding loose mines and landed at Calais.
After staying overnight, we boarded a troop train, and travelled to Toulon. The country was still full of the wreckage of war, burned out vehicles everywhere. At Toulon we were put on the troopship Clan Lamont, where we stayed for a few days before sailing. I did see the French Fleet lying where it was scuttled to prevent it falling into German hands.
We set sail, still expecting Italy but instead landed in Salonika, where we took on about another 300 men. Hopes of Italy faded when we ended up at Port Said. After a few days at 156 Transit Camp we finally arrived at Cairo, where one of our party was stabbed trying to prevent his kit being stolen. The culprit was shot dead by the Military Police.
We were sent to Abbasia Barracks, but were confined to barracks for most of the time due to serious rioting. Our now small group was told we would be sent to various Pay Offices within M.E.L.F. Mine would probably be Khartoum. One late afternoon we were all taken to the railway station and put on a crowded troop train. It was only when we crossed the Palestine frontier that we realised our true destination.
Shortly afterwards the train stopped and we were all taken off. The train in front had been attacked and we had to wait for an armoured train, (thanks to the 17th/21st Lancers), to be put in front. After some hours delay we moved off again, but when we arrived at a place called Lydda, we were taken off the train again. This was as far as we went. The trains ahead had been blown off the track and Jerusalem station had been put out of action. We were to move there by truck.
So this is where we were going. We knew now that we were in a war zone. Military evidence everywhere. Our Pay Office was in a Garrison, in a very exposed position on the edge of the town, and we shared the Garrison with an Infantry battalion. Although most of the guards and prowler patrols within the Garrison was done by the Pay Corps, they were,in the main ex Infantry men from nearly every regiment in the British Army.
The situation was getting worse by the day. Men being killed, bombed and attacked, was an every day event. Martial law was introduced. Our Commanding Officer responded to a request from the Infantry’s C.O. (the Royal Irish Fusiliers) for some of our men to go out with their troops on road blocks, searches etc. With all the guards etc on top of our normal duties, we were getting one night sleep in three. The Garrison was often fired upon, and the odd grenade thrown. One night they blew a hole in the perimeter wall, and detonated a bomb inside the building, which killed one man and wounded twenty. I was lucky not to be killed by having a door blown on top of me, with a wall landing on top of that. Due to the action of our men, who although in a very exposed position, kept up a steady fire on the attackers and prevented a second bomb in the building from being correctly fused. If this had gone off I dread to think what our casualties would have been.
I was wounded in the feet and legs, but not sufficient to prevent me being on guard that night. After some weeks I think the Medical Officer got fed up with digging glass out of my feet and I was posted to Fayed in the Suez Canal zone.
At that time we had tens of thousands German prisoners of war, who seemed to do most of the work. Even in the perimeter guards there was one British soldier to ten Germans. They were mostly ex Africa Corps, and I found them very good to be with. I remained there for another twelve months as my demob kept being put back. I was discharged in May 1948.
I was lucky. I still think of those who were not so lucky, especially the forgotten 800 British buried in Palestine.
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by June Woodhouse of the CSV Action Desk at BBC Hereford and Worcester on behalf of Harry Devey and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.